LAWRENCE — Wednesday night was fun for No. 3-ranked Kansas basketball, with the Jayhawks pulling out a 58-49 come-from-behind victory at No. 14 West Virginia.
That gleeful feeling was even enjoyed by a Jayhawk not known for outward expressions of joy, though make no mistake: Isaiah Moss’ head coach noticed.
"I thought he was really excited," said Bill Self, speaking ahead of KU’s 11 a.m. Saturday tilt against Oklahoma at Allen Fieldhouse. "I think he’s helped us win some games, but I think deep in his core he knew that he was responsible in playing a huge role in us winning that game (Wednesday) in a hard game."
Moss scored 13 points for the Jayhawks in Wednesday's triumph, including 10 in the game's final nine minutes. The senior guard and former Iowa graduate transfer hit two of KU's four made 3s in the contest, the final giving the Jayhawks a lead they wouldn't surrender.
While it wasn't Moss' highest-scoring game in a KU uniform, it was perhaps his most meaningful — Moss scored 21 points in a 112-57 victory over Monmouth, 17 in a 72-56 victory at Stanford and 20 in a 66-52 victory at Oklahoma.
"It’s one thing to go out and make shots if you win by 20," Self continued. "In a hard game where you needed every one, I thought he felt really good about himself, which was good to see because he’s had a terrific attitude since he’s been here."
That "terrific attitude" is noteworthy in that Moss has often needed to be resilient this season.
Averaging 8.3 points on 41.7% shooting with a 38% clip from 3-point range, Moss scored five or fewer points nine times in a 16-game stretch from Nov. 19 to Jan. 25, with three goose eggs dotted throughout. However, Moss has hit at least three 3s in three of his last five games, accounting for six of the Jayhawks' eight total treys in their two most recent tilts.
"It’s ridiculously poor how we’ve shot the ball beyond the arc," Self said, "but also you can look at it: Thank goodness we have him (Moss) because he’s bailed us out. …
"I don’t know that we would’ve won (Wednesday) unless Isaiah was in the game."
Junior guard Marcus Garrett said Moss has always had the green light to pull the trigger on open looks, though he perhaps understands that now more than he did when he first arrived in Lawrence. Moss was slowed in the preseason with two hamstring injuries.
"I think he’s starting to take advantage of it now," Garrett said. "I feel like early on we had to remind him because he didn’t work out with us in the summertime, so he didn’t get that (opportunity to) gel with us. I feel like now he kind of knows every time he touches it, we want him to shoot it."
Self labeled Moss’ play as "fabulous" in a postgame radio interview Wednesday, and Friday, the head coach acknowledged the sharpshooter could at some point ascend to the team’s starting lineup.
Asked if he’s happy with Moss right now, Self replied: "Why wouldn’t I be?"
That said, there’s at least one area where Moss — and the team as a whole, for that matter — has room to grow.
"He can become a better post feeder," Self said. "If guys are going to guard him, he should be able to get the ball to Doke (Azubuike), and that’s something that we have done a poor job at all year long and we’ve got to somehow get better the last quarter of the season."
Still, Moss is at least coming off a performance worthy of hanging a hat on — and he’s got the good vibes that come along with that, too.
Sophomore point guard Devon Dotson, whose older brother, Dalen, played alongside Moss on the AAU circuit, said it’s "rare" to see the Chicago native get as fired up as he was Wednesday, but when it happens, it’s "cool to see."
"It was just an emotional game for me," Moss explained. "I was just trying to play as hard as I could."
Braun but not out
Christian Braun scored just two points in 16 minutes versus WVU, and while the freshman guard is still shooting a team-best 41.8% from 3-point range, he doesn't have an attempt in the Jayhawks' last two games.
Braun has pulled the trigger on two or fewer 3-point tries in each of KU's last four games.
"I think he needs to be a good shooter for us, and I think he is," Self said, "but one reason why we haven’t made a lot of 3s is he hasn’t shot any. … We’ve talked about that. People are going to guard you differently. You’ve got to figure out a way to play."
Self said the way the Jayhawks run offense — often going downhill and trying to open up driving lanes as opposed to running set plays to get 3-point looks — "isn’t always conducive" to players like Braun and Moss, and said KU needs to do a better job of being balanced in those mindsets.
Still, Self added that Braun must become "more of a recipient from others right now."
"If he’s not getting as many looks, well, maybe it’s because they’re pressing out on you," Self said. "Well, if they’re pressing out on him, that opens up more lanes to drive. So he can be effective and still yet not shoot the ball (from 3) for us."